A Scottish startup using binaural recording, 3D audio software and immersive sound design to redefine the audiobook. A team of seasoned digital entrepreneurs from Cologne on a mission to revolutionise storytelling for mobile. A Manchester-based app employing behavioural science and gaming mechanics to take writers from big idea to final draft. A Canadian production company crowdfunding a series of interactive children’s books that dissolve the boundaries between the digital and the real.
The Owl Field, oolipo, Write Track and Together Tales represent just half of the shortlist for this year’s inaugural BookTech Award, revealed today at Frankfurt Book Fair, and their range and ambition is both reassuring and enervating in a climate where complaints that the publishing industry is failing to innovate are as common as bitter Amazon take-downs.
In fact, we found it so hard to whittle down the 31 submissions to seven finalists that we ended up with eight. Completing the showcase are Ooovre, a platform designed to make it easy for readers to buy from local booksellers; Reedsy, a budding marketplace for publishing professionals; Gojimo, an exam-quiz app that has already become the UK’s most popular revision tool; and Shulph, an “omnichannel reading experience company” that promises to have finally found an elegant solution to bundling e- and print-books.
As we explained when we launched the award last month, the term “book tech” invites seriously broad interpretation, so the judging criteria were always going to be eclectic.
As a result, some submissions, such as The Owl Field and oolipo, won a place in the shortlist for their exciting original technology, while others - Reedsy and Shulph - impressed by applying existing tech to a lingering problem or opportunity in a new way. In turn, Write Track and Gojimo demonstrate an admirable talent for tailoring tech to the behaviours of a particular audience, while Ooovre and Together Tales presage the future by blurring the divide between our digital and physical worlds.
Traits that they all share, however, are freshness in their creativity, clarity in their vision, and sophistication in their approach.
Perhaps the most exciting attribute of the BookTech longlist was the number of entrants we had never heard of before. Some, like Reedsy and Gojimo, are already starting to make waves, but the majority are in early funding or even pre-funding stage, and have yet to hit the public radar. Considering that our long-term aim for BookTech is to give publishing professionals a head start on disruption coming their way, whilst also hopefully inspiring them to take some bold imaginative leaps of their own, it represents an encouraging start.
Whether any of our finalists will survive to fulfil their promise, of course, is another story. That’s why we’re going to subject them to a vigorous grilling at the FutureBook conference in December, with questions coming from a prestigious panel of experts - Unbound Co-Founder Dan Kieran, Digital Director at Penguin Random House Hannah Tefler and one of London’s most influential tech VCs, Eileen Burbidge - as well as our assembled industry audience. The eventual winner will have to demonstrate commercial smarts and a viable plan for growth, not just a crowd-pleasing concept.
In the meantime, we’ll be running a weekly series of interviews with the finalists, kicking off today with a profile of mobile storytelling platform oolipo, so keep an eye out for the articles and tweet us your thoughts using the #BookTech hashtag.
Who would you vote for?
The BookTech Showcase (#BookTech) is a new element of the FutureBook Conference. Hosted by tech and culture journalist Molly Flatt, the session invites eight book tech companies to take part in a live pitch-off for a panel of industry and tech experts. A real-time vote will then determine the winners of the bronze, silver and gold FutureBook Awards. The overall winner will be named The FutureBook BookTech Company of the Year 2015.
The judges of the showcase, who will interrogate attendees from the selected book tech companies, are Hannah Telfer, Group Director of Consumer and Digital Development at Penguin Random House UK; Dan Kieran, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound; and Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital and one of the UK’s most influential tech venture capitalists.
To book tickets, visit the FutureBook Conference site.